Floorcloth in the Office?

We are currently investigating the possibility that Fielding Lewis’s Office had a floorcloth covering its floorboards, much like the Passage. As you may recall, floorcloths were popular floorcoverings in colonial American households, as they were far more affordable than carpet and were durable enough to protect floors in high-traffic areas of the house, like the Passage. These decoratively painted sheets of sail canvas could be mopped when dirty, re-varnished when they began to wear, and simply repainted with a new design to keep up with changing fashion.

Evidence shows, however, that floorcloths were sometimes used in other areas of the house, as well. They are sometimes listed in probate inventories as being in chambers, and private rooms on the second floor of the house. Even in formal rooms, like the dining room, a floorcloth might be put under a dining table to catch food and spilled drinks. In areas where a floorcloth would be seen by more than just family members, it was probably decorated in a more ornate pattern. Fielding’s office was both a utilitarian, working office and a space in which Fielding might meet with business associates and other gentry who needed to be suitably impressed. Would it have had a floorcloth?

Kenmore’s most recent restoration provided us with two clues as to the existence of a floorcloth in the Office. First, a small fragment of painted textile was found wedged under one of the baseboards in the room. Microscopic analysis of the fragment found that is was composed of hemp with some wool and cotton fibers mixed in. Although this is not the usual make-up of canvas from the 18th century, historic textile consultants did suggest that it could represent the natural fibers of padding placed under floorcloths on occasion. The paint attached to the fibers represented at least 5 layers of paint and varnish, indicating that the textile had been painted, varnished, worn through, repainted and revarnished multiple times, which is exactly what one would expect to find in a fragment of floorcloth. Unfortunately the fragment was so small and degraded that no determination to original color could be made, but the existence of the fragment strongly indicates that the Office had a floorcloth at one time.

The second clue found during the restoration is a group of larger floorcloth fragments that were found under the attic floorboards. These fragments are large enough that we can see a pattern and color scheme. While these fragments are obviously from a floorcloth, dating them is a little harder. Floorcloths were used in American households from the mid-18th century through the mid-19th century. Was this floorcloth old enough to have been used during the Lewis era at Kenmore? To narrow down the date range, samples from the green painted areas on the fragments were once again put under a microscope.  Prior to 1816, green pigmented paint did not have chrome yellow in its composition. Analysis confirmed an absence of chrome yellow, meaning that the floorcloth dates to before 1816. While not a conclusive date, it certainly moves the possible date range closer to the Lewis occupation of Kenmore.

These clues add up to a distinct possibility that Fielding’s Office did indeed have a floorcloth, and we may even have pieces of it. Stay tuned to see where this investigation takes us next!

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